Friday, April 04, 2008

Did Critics Think There Is Nothing Like South Pacific?

Did Critics Think There Is Nothing Like South Pacific?

Looks like critics collectively had some enchanted evenings (and matinees -- just like I did) as they're rhapsodic in their praise this morning for the very first and long overdue Broadway revival of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's South Pacific, which opened last night at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the first-ever revival stars Kelli O'Hara, Paulo Szot, Matthew Morrison, Loretta Ables Sayre, Danny Burstein and Li Jun Li.

Praising Sher and Christopher Gattelli for having "reinvigorated the concept of the organic musical, in which song feels as natural as breathing," The New York Times' Ben Brantley, who saw the very same performance as I, is effusive: "There’s not an ounce of we-know-better-now irony in Mr. Sher’s staging. Yet the show feels too vital to be a museum piece, too sensually fluid to be square.... It’s as if a vintage photograph had been restored not with fuzzy, hand-colored prettiness but with you-are-there clarity.... [I]n a superbly shaded portrait (O'Hara) gives the character a troubled, apprehensive guardedness as well.... When (Szot) delivers 'Some Enchanted Evening' or 'This Nearly Was Mine,' it’s not as a swoon-making blockbuster (though of course it is), but as a measured and honest consideration of love."

Proclaiming this a "gorgeous revival," Elysa Gardner of USA Today offers four stars: "[D]irector Bartlett Sher and a gifted, great-looking cast fully engage both the challenges faced by these and other characters and the romantic sweep of Rodgers and Hammerstein's ravishing score. Led by Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot and the increasingly wondrous Kelli O'Hara.... When she kicks up her heels and does cartwheels while performing 'A Wonderful Guy,' O'Hara summons the spiritual buoyancy that makes a certain kind of American musical uniquely transporting. Such spine-tingling moments ensure that this South Pacific doesn't just float; it soars."

"Simply wonderful!" raves New York Post's Clive Barnes in his rare four-star review: "Where Sher and Yeargan have been especially effective is in their sense of period, and, more important, a period filtered through the perspective of history. (Interestingly, although the races are carefully kept apart, the show updates the integration of the US Navy by a couple of decades.) This South Pacific is not a faded photograph, but a modern etching. Except in one delicious respect: O'Hara, who gives a totally different reading from the role's great originator, Mary Martin, offers an uncannily precise re-creation of her 'Honey Bun.' Charming! Otherwise, O'Hara delivers Nellie on her own terms and in her own deliquescent persona. If you've never seen a 'deliquescent persona' before, that's just another good reason to rush to the Beaumont."

Trumpeting this as "ravishing theatre," Variety's David Rooney heaps on the praise: "The keynote to Sher's approach is restraint. Nothing is pushed too hard in this naturalistic presentation, stripped of Broadway bravado, whether it's dramatic scenes, comedy or even the seemingly effortless vocals.... All that quiet restraint serves to make the stealth-like, cumulative emotional power more overwhelming..... Possibly the most accomplished young actress in American musical theater today, Kelli O'Hara's creamy vocals are perfection.... The strength of character, quiet masculinity, kindness and mellow intensity Szot brings to the role are all channeled in his velvety voice. His 'Some Enchanted Evening' is more measured than the usual impassioned declaration but all the more stirring for it, and his escalating regret in 'This Nearly Was Mine' delivers chills."

Practically wishing "It should easily play for at least 1,925 performances," Bloomberg's John Simon also offers huzzahs: "Pretty Kelli O'Hara is deliciously girlish, with prance in her movements and glints in her glances.... The Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot is surely the best Emile ever.... Sher restored material cut from the original script that deals compellingly with racism. He has excelled at getting mute, peripheral characters to scurry about or linger atmospherically to perfection (note two distant, sunbathing nurses), and in making first-rate use of an airplane and all sorts of military equipment.... Most important, Sher has retained the cinematic flow, naturalism and suggestive use of Trude Rittman's brilliant underscoring."

Concluding that Sher's "spring '08 creation is top of the line," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News has also fallen for the revival: "What makes this impeccably acted and designed production so extraordinary is Bartlett Sher's meticulous and dramatic direction.... The show is filled with fantastic and familiar songs that are presented here like musical conversation, making them sound fresh and exciting. Characters are played with such intimacy you practically hear hearts flutter as people fall in love.... O'Hara is just plain wonderful.... (Szot's) version of 'This Nearly Was Mine' thrills."

Lauding it as "the finest Rodgers and Hammerstein revival since Nicholas Hytner's epochal Carousel of 1994," The New York Sun's Eric Grode is unequivocal: "Director Bartlett Sher has risen to the challenge, crafting a crisp, sumptuous, unabashedly emotional revival that finds an almost perfect balance between severity and opulence.... Mr. Sher is seemingly incapable of creating a stage picture that is imprecise or unattractive.... And just as his abundantly charismatic stars, Paulo Szot and the wonderful Kelli O'Hara, each show an acute sensitivity to dynamics as the conflicted lovers Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush, Mr. Sher finds room for emotions of all shapes and sizes, folding everything from chaotic burlesque to piercing naturalism within Michael Yeargan's inviting sets...."

Suddenly, there's a real race in the Tony category of Best Revival of a Musical. Will the overflowing praise for South Pacific result in a well-earned extension for its limited run? We'd better hope so since it's currently scheduled to close on the very June afternoon that the Tonys will be awarded.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
South Pacific (The SOB Review) (April 4, 2008)
South Pacific: Some Enchanted Opening Night (April 3, 2008)
Is Johansson's South Pacific Journey Just Happy Talk? (March 14, 2007)
Will Broadway's First-Ever South Pacific Revival Provide Some Enchanted Evenings? (December 19, 2006)

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At 04 April, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

I'm beginning to think that there may be a surprise upset in the best actress category. While I think Patti Lupone should get the Tony, some Tony voters may think that Kelli deserves the Tony for the work she did in Pajama Game and Piazza as well as South Pacific, and that Patti has already won a Tony. I still think Patti will edge out Kelli for the Tony but it may be a close call...

At 04 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Me thinks it's still Patti's to lose, but I also think "Best Revival" is now a toss-up, with Saturday In The Park With George now an also-ran.

At 04 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I think South Pacific might win Best Revival. It's such a stunning looking production. But in terms of individual performances, Patti was amazing.

At 05 April, 2008, Anonymous Ron Shelley said...

They may have to invent a new word to describe the incredible talent, charm and beauty of Kelli O'Hara. Clive Barnes used "deliquescent" which I am sure most people will have to use Webster to understand.
Anyway, Kelli is the "toast of the town."

At 05 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Ron, I loved Barnes' use of "deliquescent" for O'Hara. She's been so exciting to watch as a stage actress as she loses herself in each role.

But because she has become the "It Girl" for serious Broadway musicals, why don't we call her ubiquissential. Thanks for your comments! Steve


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